Archbishop: We are all called to holiness

Archbishop John Nienstedt concelebrated the canonization Mass April 27 for St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII with Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI and some 150 cardinals and 700 bishops from around the world. The Catholic Spirit interviewed the archbishop by phone the next day from Rome.

Archbishop John Nienstedt at the canonization ceremony in St. Peter’s Square for Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II. Submitted photo

Archbishop John Nienstedt at the canonization ceremony in St. Peter’s Square for Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II. Submitted photo

Q. Describe the scene in St. Peter’s square for the ceremony.

A. The first thing you noticed when you looked toward the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica were these beautiful drawings of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. They were very nicely framed in beautiful flowers. Italians have a perfect knack for being able to use flowers to enhance a situation, and that was certainly true yesterday.

Then you looked at the square. It was just packed — people standing, elbow room only. Two of our seminarians, Tim Wratkowski and Nick Hagen, went down the night before and spent the whole night standing up in the square so that they had a decent sight of the Mass. I’ve heard estimates of a half million to nearly a million people [attending] so you really couldn’t very well move around. We had special passes to get through on a bus, but even that took a little bit of time.

Q.  Just seeing that many Catholics come together for something like this — does it give you a real sense of hope?

A. It’s a great tribute to the popularity of these popes, and I think it’s a great sign of the vitality of the Second Vatican Council.  These were the two popes that sort of bookended the Second Vatican Council — Pope John XXIII being the one who called the council and Pope John Paul II being the one who gave it direction and saw that the council was implemented according to the mind of the Church.

It was a great sign of the vitality of the Church. There were a lot of young people there, a lot of Polish people. That they were the predominant [pilgrim group] wouldn’t surprise anybody, I don’t think, because of the great esteem that the Polish people have for Pope John Paul II.

It was a great day, a great blessing. So many people said that throughout the day — that it was just a great, great blessing.

Q. Is there something in particular that sticks in your mind from the ceremony and the day?

A. Number 1, Pope Francis’ greeting of Pope Benedict. Pope Benedict was concelebrating — the first time ever, I think, that two popes have concelebrated a Mass together.  Pope Francis walked over and greeted him at the beginning before he walked up to the altar, so that was very moving.

Then, Pope Francis in his homily talked about Pope John XXIII as being the pope who was open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and that Pope John Paul was the pope of the family. He mentioned that both of these men lived through tragic events in the 20th century, but they weren’t overwhelmed by them.

That phrase struck me in a particular way, that we can meet tragic events in our lives but with the prompting of God’s grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we don’t have to be overwhelmed by these things.

I was struck by the positioning of the reliquaries next to the altar.  There was a little stand that the two reliquaries stood on. One was a vial of the blood of Pope John Paul II and one was a piece of skin taken from John XXIII.

These reliquaries were given due honor after the canonization had been completed. People came up and put candles in front of them and flowers to each side of them. That was very moving.

Q. Is there something you’d like Catholics of our local church to know about this event, something that maybe they didn’t get from secular news coverage but something that perhaps you observed while you were there?

A. Basically, the fundamental call of the Second Vatican Council was a call to holiness for all people.  Even while these two men were popes and great men in their own right, it underscores the fact that we’re all called to be saints. These men were certainly very holy men, but they were very human men, too. They both had such humor, and they enjoyed life, and they enjoyed people. I think it reminds all of us that in our own way, in our own particular vocation, we are called to be holy people, to be saints.

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Category: Featured, The Last Word